New Zealand Law Society - Women’s Suffrage Day an opportunity to reflect on gender diversity in the legal profession

Women’s Suffrage Day an opportunity to reflect on gender diversity in the legal profession

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The legal profession is being encouraged to acknowledge Women’s Suffrage Day as an ideal time to review and reflect on gender diversity and inclusion in the work place.

Tuesday marked 124 years since women gained the right to vote in New Zealand.

Following the women’s suffrage petition, on September 19, 1893 a new Electoral Act became law giving women the same right as men to vote. New Zealand was the first country in the world to achieve this milestone for women.

Last week, the New Zealand Law Society released a draft Gender Diversity and Inclusion Charter for comment by lawyers.

The voluntary charter is an initiative of the Law Society’s Women’s Advisory Panel that was set up to look at ways to support the retention and advancement of women in the legal profession. It also aims to address pay equity and encourage the implementation of unconscious bias training for all lawyers and key staff.

The first female lawyer to be admitted as a barrister and solicitor of the Supreme Court, was Ethel Benjamin on 4 May, 1897. In recent years women have made up close to 70% of law graduates from universities, and almost 50% of those holding practising certificates. Yet women make up less than 30% of those who are partners or directors in law firms.

Law Society President, Kathryn Beck says Women’s Suffrage day is an important day for New Zealand as well as an opportunity for the legal profession to reflect on gender diversity and inclusion.

“As a nation we are proud of our status as the first country to give women the vote but the legal profession needs to work together to continue to advance and retain our women lawyers.  The draft Gender Diversity and Inclusion Charter currently out for consultation is a further step in the right direction.

She says we have many talented women who practise law.

“They deserve acknowledgement and the opportunity to be able to make the most of their talents. I've been fortunate enough to achieve some of my goals. I've had good work and opportunities in my career. I’m a partner in a law firm and I have the privilege of being the President of the NZLS. I want to see other women who are practising law achieve their goals. It can be done and our Gender Diversity and Inclusion Charter can help foster positive change in the legal profession,” she says.